Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Hear, Hear: The Adventure Of English

I have a confession to make: The Adventure of English shouldn't really be figuring in My Reading List. The reason? I haven't actually read it as such. You may now ask, and rightly so, how could I have then rated it (and so highly) - not to mention this attempt at a review? The fact is, I have actually listened to it. And what a wonderful experience it was, too!

As you may, or may not, remember this is not the first audio book I "read", and also not the first I am reviewing. And while I enjoyed the experience of The Grand Design (even if I found faults with it), I would dare say that The Adventure of English is best enjoyed as an audio book, with just reading it off the paper coming only a distant second.

Dealing with the history and development of English language, it is - quite naturally - full of quotations from various versions of English, but also other tributary languages. Now, you may be an expert in all the tongues, ancient and modern, but I am not. And it has nothing to do with being a native speaker of English (or not, as the case may be). So, pretty much anyone reading the book off the paper will be denied the sound of a lot of the quotes. The language being, first and foremost, a spoken affair this is indeed a great loss, and at times will certainly hinder full enjoyment, maybe even understanding, of the book.

Not to be misunderstood, the book will certainly be a joy to just read. It really does justice to the title, portraying the history and development of the English language as a true and proper adventure. At times it reads more like a dramatised history novel than a treatise on language. It certainly makes the history and development of English language sound exciting, interesting, and important.

All this is not to say that other languages' histories are any less interesting or important. Of course they are, each in its own way. And that surely applies also to the languages where attempts have, and are still being made, to prescribe and restrain them (notable examples being French and German). All of them certainly deserve their own history books. If such books do exist, and are only half as good as The Adventure of English they will have been very well served indeed.. If not, prospective authors could certainly do worse than look to The Adventure of English for guidance and inspiration.

By now you must have noticed a conspicuous lack of detail about what exactly can be found inside this book, and may be wondering at the sort of review this is. Well, for one, I never said this was a review (or if I did I didn't really mean it). Consider this just a pointer towards a book very well written, hugely interesting (if languages are your thing, and probably even if they aren't), and well worth a read. Or rather, much better enjoyed being read out by a good voice actor. This may be one of those rare cases where spending a lot more - both money and time (it is a good 12 hours worth of listening) - on an audio book does make sense.

Oh, and one thing that wouldn't make sense at all: reading a translation...